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Unaffordable: high rental prices are challenge for university students

Report from RNZ by Jake McKee
There is concern that university students will start moving away from Wellington because of high rental prices, as some students struggle to juggle their studies with their bills.

This is a message shared between Victoria University student association president Michael Turnbull and his Massey University Wellington counterpart, Tessa Guess.

The pair say housing affordability is one of the biggest issues students face in Wellington, with some even ditching their studies for work as a result.

Trade Me Property’s most recent data (for August, published in September) put Wellington City’s median weekly rent at $600, which was $30 more than Auckland City.

Second-year Victoria University student Teresa Davenport was looking for something more affordable because her boyfriend was moving home to save money. She had originally “basically begged” him to move in to afford living in Wellington City.

Davenport currently paid $160 per week for her share of rent – their room was actually the lounge – but that would “go up to about $250” if she were the only one renting it. She still struggled to cover her cost of living despite working the maximum Studylink allowed for without reducing her student allowance.

“The rents are spiralling out of control,” she said.

Davenport regularly looked at rooms listed on Trade Me and “even at the moment they’re all pretty much $240 to $250 a week”.

“How am I supposed to afford that anymore?”

Davenport said she would work as much as she could over summer to pay for next year, but was ultimately considering moving to her parents’ home in Whanganui.

She said she would likely be relying on the university’s “really good” financial advisors next year, as well as free food through the student association.

Her experience sounded all too familiar to Wellington City Councillor Tamatha Paul, who found herself in a similar position as a student in 2017. However, she thought things today were much worse, a statement echoed by Turnbull and Guest.

Turnbull said many students found it hard “being chucked out into the renting world” once they left first-year residential halls and their “wrap-around support”.

He said students, with other expensive costs, were being “scalped” by landlords.

Guest agreed and said the hundreds of students she had seen calling out for help were just the tip of the iceberg.

In a statement, Massey University said it had increased its student accommodation this year and made it an option for all students.

But Victoria University said focusing on more than rooms for school leavers would be straying too far from its core purpose and the city’s wider housing issues needed tackling.

Recognising universities were limited in their actions, Guest and Turnbull want to see local and central government take urgent action.

Paul did not mince her words about the council doing more, saying it had been “shocking” and “holding back” on housing. “We’ve been a massive contributor to making student lives miserable,” she said.

Paul said students not being able to afford city living was “one of the worst indicators” of Wellington’s housing crisis because they were only paying per room, compared to those paying for a whole home.

4 comments:

  1. JAB, 21. October 2021, 22:34

    Perhaps the universities could get busy actually providing the relevant accommodation for the students. They own enough of central Wellington and without overseas students there must be space to spare. Personal responsibility rather than trying to blame others

     
  2. Mona Krewel, 22. October 2021, 10:09

    I have many students who tell me they have no time to study because they need to work to pay their rents. Or they leave the city and only follow uni via the online recordings which leads to worse study results. [via twitter]

     
  3. Ben Schrader, 22. October 2021, 13:10

    Meanwhile, the university-owned Gordon Wilson Flats remain empty and derelict. If Auckland University can repurpose a former block of state flats (Symonds Street Flats) into student accommodation, I’m sure VUW could. Hopefully Vic’s new VC will see the potential of the flats for this purpose that the present VC is unwilling to see.

     
  4. greenwelly, 22. October 2021, 15:42

    “Recognising universities were limited in their actions.” What about the 25% increase in the cost of Hall accommodation in 2019. Te Puni – the biggest hall and closest to the university – will see its top annual rate increase from $15,022 to $18,978 – an increase of $3956. Other halls have increased from $1683 to $2765.